Want to know more about your heart health? We’ll be highlighting some signs that could mean you need to speak to your GP

Cardiovascular diseases remain the leading cause of death worldwide. While genetics and age can play a role, lifestyle choices can also significantly impact heart health.

Recognising the warning signs helps support early detection, prevention and timely intervention. What can we look out for that might be signs of cardiovascular disease?

Chest pains

In most cases, chest pain isn’t a sign of a serious problem with your heart. Common causes of chest pain can include:

• Heartburn


• Anxiety or panic

• Chest sprain or strain

• Chest infection or pneumonia

• Shingles

It’s important not to self-diagnose your chest pain, always speak to your GP for advice and to rule out an underlying cause.

There are some heart problems which can cause chest pain which include:

• Pericarditis – this can cause a sharp stabbing pain that gets worse when lying down or breathing deeply

• Angina – the symptoms range from mild to severe and can include discomfort or pain which is usually in the centre of the chest

In some cases, chest pain can be the sign of a heart attack which is a medical emergency, so it’s important to get immediate help.

You need to call 999 if you have sudden chest pain and it:

• Spreads to your back, neck, jaw or arms

• Makes your chest feel heavy or tight

• Started with you feeling short of breath, feeling sick, being sick or sweating

• Lasts for more than 15 minutes

These symptoms are signs of a heart attack so it’s important that you call 999 immediately.

Book an appointment to speak to your GP if:

• Your chest pain comes and goes

• Your chest pain goes away quickly but you’re still worried about it

It’s important to trust your instinct and speak to your GP to make sure that your chest pain isn’t serious.


Feeling sick or being sick is not usually a sign of a heart attack, but if it’s alongside chest pain, it’s important to seek medical advice.

If you’re having chest pain while not doing anything and you feel sick, call 999.

If your chest feels more uncomfortable than painful and you feel nauseous, but you aren’t in intense pain, call NHS 111. They’ll be able to advise you on any next steps to take.

Stomach pain or indigestion

Angina is a pain or discomfort in your chest. It is caused when coronary arteries become partially blocked. This pain can feel like indigestion. Angina is often triggered by physical activity or stressful situations. Symptoms usually pass in less than 10 minutes and can be relieved by resting.

Stomach pain or indigestion could be unrelated to your heart, but it’s important to be aware that they can also be the sign of a heart attack or a problem with your heart.

If you have discomfort like stomach pain or indigestion and these are alongside other symptoms of a heart attack, it’s a medical emergency and it’s important to call 999.

Leg pain

Leg pain may be due to a number of causes; however it can also be a sign of peripheral arterial disease. Peripheral arterial disease can happen if the arteries supplying blood to the leg muscles is blocked or restricted. This blockage is caused by a build-up of fatty deposits in the arteries which restricts the blood supply to your leg muscles.

Many people with peripheral arterial disease don’t have any symptoms, but if they do, leg pain when walking might be one of them. This pain is usually in both legs and normally stops a few minutes after resting. The medical term for this is “intermittent claudication”.

It’s important to speak to your GP if you experience recurring leg pain when you’re exercising.


If you’re sweating because you’ve been exercising or spending time in the sun, this shouldn’t ring any alarm bells. However, if you feel sweaty, hot and clammy and you’re having chest pain, it may be a sign of heart attack so call 999 immediately. The faster you can get help, the higher the chances of recovery.

Swollen ankles

Swollen ankles and legs are usually caused by a build-up of fluid and the condition is called oedema. Swelling may be temporary, for example caused by sitting or standing in the same position for long periods, however it can be a symptom of a heart problem such as heart failure.


Feeling tired most the time and finding exercise exhausting may be a warning sign. Extreme tiredness may be linked to an underlying condition and is also a common symptom of heart failure.

If you’re tired because you’ve been working long hours or staying up late, then it’s unlikely that your fatigue is caused by an underlying problem. However, if you start feeling tired and you haven’t changed your daily routine or lifestyle, make an appointment to speak to your GP.

Arm pain

Having pain in your arm doesn’t usually mean bad news, but specific types of arm pain alongside other symptoms may be a sign of a heart attack.

During a heart attack, you might have pain which travels from your chest to your arms and other parts of your body like your stomach.

This pain is usually in your left arm, but it can affect both arms. It’s important to call 999 if you have a squeezing or tightening in your chest along with pain spreading through your arms.

Jaw or neck pain

Symptoms of a heart attack can include pain that spreads from your chest to other parts of your body (including your jaw or neck).

If this pain doesn’t go away and is alongside other heart attack symptoms, call 999 and ask for an ambulance.

Erectile dysfunction

Erectile dysfunction is when you are either unable to get an erection or unable to keep an erection for long enough to have sex.

Atherosclerosis is the narrowing of the arteries due to fatty deposits lining them. This can make it difficult for blood to flow through them.

In the case of erectile dysfunction, it can reduce blood flow to the penis, making it difficult to achieve or maintain an erection. Atherosclerosis also increases the risk of having a heart attack, which means erectile dysfunctions can be a warning sign of poor heart health.

You can learn more about the link between erectile dysfunction and heart health in our article.


It’s not unusual to have occasional times of feeling dizzy, lightheaded or off balance.

Feeling dizzy can include:

• Feeling off-balance

• Feeling lightheaded or faint

• Feeling giddy

• Feeling like things around you are spinning

• Feeling like you’re spinning

Feeling dizzy sometimes can be part of living with a heart condition. Some people with heart failure often get symptoms like dizziness.

Speak to your GP if you have any symptoms of heart failure. This includes if you feel dizzy and have any other symptoms like:

• Breathlessness after exercise or when you’re resting

• Fatigue most of the time

• Feeling lightheaded

• Fainting

• Swollen ankles and legs

Make sure to call 999 or go to A&E if you have sudden symptoms or they become severe quickly.

If you’re over 40, living in England and you’d like more of an insight into your health, as well as any steps recommended  to support your heart health, the Health MOT Service* is available. This includes an NHS blood pressure check, an optional BMI and waist circumference check and lifestyle advice to help you lead a healthy lifestyle.

Not all heart problems show clear and distinct signs. As we’ve explored, some heart symptoms don’t even happen in your chest. It’s important to know your body and be aware of any symptoms that could be medical emergencies like a heart attack or a stroke.

If you have any symptoms that could be a heart attack or stroke (a serious life-threatening medical condition that happens when the blood supply to part of the brain is cut off), make sue to call 999 for an ambulance immediately.

These symptoms include:

• Pain that spreads to your arms, back, stomach, neck or jaw

• Suddenly feeling sick

• Suddenly feeling sweaty or light-headed

• Swelling of your feet, lower legs or ankles

• Putting on weight over a short period of time

• Feeling short of breath

• Having problems with your speech

• Having sudden memory loss or confusion

• Feeling dizzy

• Having a sudden fall

• Having a severe headache

• Sight problems

• Fainting

• “Blacking out”

• Having heart palpitations

The most common signs of a stroke can be remembered with the word FAST which stands for:

• Face – If someone’s had a stroke, their face including their mouth or eye might’ve drooped on one side. This can mean they aren’t able to smile

• Arms – if someone has a stroke, they might not be able to lift both their arms up and keep them there as their arms might be weak or numb. This can happen in one or both arms

• Speech – Their speech may be slurred and they may not be able to talk even though they look awake. They might also struggle to understand what you’re saying to them

• Time – Strokes are medical emergencies. It’s time to call 999 immediately if you see any of the signs or symptoms

It’s important to trust your instinct. Don’t delay getting help if you’re worried. Whatever your symptoms are, if you feel like they’re having an effect on your life, speak to your GP.

* Free Health MOT available in participating stores in England only. Subject to availability. The NHS Blood Pressure Check Service is for adults aged 40 years and over who do not currently have a diagnosis of hypertension, for adults under 40 years of age who have a recognised family history of hypertension may be tested at the discretion of the pharmacist, and adults who have been referred by their GP. Waist circumference and BMI checks as part of the health MOT are optional.